The dark streets of the city seem to sneer and bite at him from every angle as he walks in no particular direction, going somewhere; anywhere that might be safe enough to get him through until morning. His feet scream and ache as they pedal him forward down the concrete. They’ve been throbbing all night. Each new step stings along the blisters he can feel forming inside of his boots and he’s just so tired.
He slumps down with weak knees and a tight chest, the weight of hot tears pressing hard against his lids when he closes them and pillows his forehead on top of his bent knees. Around him, people laugh and cling to each other as they drunkenly stagger out of night clubs and pubs. He earns looks of pity from them, their faces warped from the silent tears that pool in his eyes and trickle down his cheeks as the commotion of two a.m. roars on. A club door slams open near him and a group of young men pile out of it, colorful and vibrant in the neon lights that stretch from the entranceway to follow their raucous energy.
“Hurry up!” one of them cackles from the throng with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips.
“I’m trying to get my share of the cab fare ready,” the straggler in the back answers distractedly as he digs through his wallet, pulling out a few crumpled bills.
“Fuck your cab fare. We got an Uber. It’s on us,” the same one in front yells. “It’s already here. Let’s go, Lou, or we’re leaving your drunk arse!” The boy fumbles with getting the money back into his wallet. He drops a few bills and when he bends to pick them up he catches sight of the weary form curled up against the brick wall. Sympathy flashes across the boy’s face before his friends catcall him again for lagging behind. The boy pays them no mind as he collects the money at his feet and holds it out in selfless offer. A shaky hand reaches out to accept it and the drunk boy’s lips turn up.
“Sorry you’re having a rough night. Feel better, yeah?” the boy whispers before hurrying to catch up with the people piling into the black SUV parked on the street.
When they’re gone, their loud shouts out of the window about the night’s celebration floating down the street with them, he straightens the money out and counts it. It’s not enough to get him another room for the night, but at least it’s something. He gratefully tucks the money into the pocket of his hoodie and wipes his hands across his cheeks to get rid of the tears that remain glistening there. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do and he has nowhere else to go, but he pushes himself up from the cold pavement and keeps walking, because he knows he can’t sleep here.
Louis squeezes his eyes shut as soon as he opens them on Saturday morning, resenting the bright sunshine streaming into his face almost as much as the sound of his dog rustling against his bed, but none of it is quite as annoying as the persistent vibrations of his phone coming from somewhere beneath the sheets.
He blindly starts digging around for his phone and his puppy barks, excitedly shoving against the bed, sensing that he’s finally awake.
“Duke. Why do you hate me? Go back to sleep,” Louis groans as his fingers curl around his phone. The sound of his voice only makes Duke more excited as he yaps and tries in vain to jump up on the bed with his short beagle legs.
Grudgingly, Louis opens his eyes to lean over the edge of the bed and scoop Duke up in one hand. He winces against the soft glow of morning that burns and blurs his vision after a long night spent staring at his computer screen.
Louis is attacked with slobber and tiny, clawed paws pushing into his chest as soon he flops back against his pillow, still completely exhausted. Dealing with Duke’s high energy is almost enough to make Louis forget about the phone still buzzing in his other hand. Almost. He puts his mobile on speaker, lays it next to his head on the pillow, and allows his dog to continue smothering him with love and affection as he greets his best friend with a groan. “Z, why do you hate me?” he asks, wondering why he can never seem to sleep in on the days when he is prepared to do just that. “What do you want?” Louis mutters petulantly. Duke answers his question with several enthusiastic yaps that turn into a succession of pitiful whimpers. Louis rolls his eyes because he knows exactly what his puppy wants, Zayn however is another story.
“Oh, stop your whining, Lou. It’s past time for you to wake up anyway,” says the man who sounds like he hasn’t even been to sleep. Louis strains his ears and hears the faint sound of a big shoot out taking place on whatever screen Zayn is currently sat in front of. And yeah, Zayn definitely hasn’t been to bed yet.
“You can’t preach about waking up when your arse hasn’t even seen a bed in twenty-four hours,” Louis retorts.
“It’s the weekend, I’m not sleepy, and you, my friend, have that Feed the Homeless volunteer thing at St. Mary’s today. You told me to remind you. This is me reminding you,” his business partner and junior director mutters alongside a litany of swears as his character undergoes some terrible mishap.
Louis lets out a sigh of great relief, thankful that he doesn’t have to go to the office today. Louis is the lead gaming designer at Mystery Van Studios, a company that he and Zayn built from absolutely nothing. One day they were a couple of teenagers playing video games in Zayn’s mother’s attic and then the next they were receiving their degrees for computer science and graphic design, and shopping around for investors who would take a shot on them so they could start up their own company. It’s not that Louis doesn’t love his job which allows him to live out his dreams and have this wonderful life, because he does. He just doesn’t like to spend all day stuffed in his office if he can help it, especially if it’s a bloody Saturday. Doing charity work isn’t so bad though. It could be worse.
“Oh, yeah. It’s at noon, right?” Louis asks.
“How the hell would I know? You didn’t tell me any of that. You just said to remind you about the homeless people thing at the church. I’ve done my job,” he rattles off over the sound of him still losing whatever game he’s playing as well as Duke loudly complaining about having no food and nowhere to piss with his big puppy eyes baring down at Louis from where his head and floppy ears are resting on his chest. Louis glances at the time and sees that it’s already a quarter past nine. Clearly, he won’t get to sleep in like he’d planned, but he won’t complain about the loss of a lazy day in bed when it’s for a good cause. Getting out of bed sucks, but it’s a small sacrifice he makes once a month that makes him feel like he’s a contributing member of society rather than a lazy sod who lays around designing and playing games all day.
“Alright, alright, I’m getting up,” Louis says with a resolved sigh. He receives several wet licks to his chin in celebration of his announcement. Zayn isn’t quite as excited as his puppy, but he does mutter something about him probably still being late even though he has two hours to get there.
“Whatever. I’m always on time,” Louis scoffs before Zayn laughs into the receiver and hangs up. Alright, so he’s mostly on time, then. Whatever.
Louis extends his arms over his head in a stretch; one last attempt at really waking himself up before scooping Duke up in his arms and kissing the top of his little head. “Ready to go out, before I have to leave? Want some yummy food?” he asks and Duke scrambles out of his arms and down to the floor. His dog takes off running out of his bedroom, his claws scraping against the hardwood as Louis slogs along behind him.
It’s a quick walk from his flat, so Louis is able to show up at St. Mary’s five whole minutes before noon, partly because he wants to make a good first impression on the people running the event; mostly because he enjoys sending Zayn’s smug arse a snapchat of himself in front of the church with a bright shiny timestamp.
He’s greeted at the door by a woman with long grey hair and a vibrant pair of glasses on her face who eagerly grabs Louis’ hand to pull him inside. She introduces herself as Mrs. Dobson, but insists that Louis call her Marianne. She’s kind and looks so happy to have him there as she leads him to the kitchen with the other volunteers for the day. Louis can tell how big-hearted she is from the moment she starts speaking about the Feed the Homeless program that she and a few people from the community began last year. She informs him of the homelessness crisis and how the numbers just keep rising year after year. Her eyes are full of sadness and a fiery determination to help as she explains how a nutritious meal a few times a month is more than just a kind favor to brighten up their days, but that for many of the homeless, it often means survival.
Louis’ never thought of it that way. He’s volunteered all over the city and worked with different charities. Charities who support children, the elderly, and the ill. He even volunteered at an animal shelter one time which is how he ended up with Duke, but he’s never really worked with the homeless before.
“What made you and the other founders start up such an amazing program?” Louis asks once they arrive at the kitchen and he sees the stocked shelves and counters filled with the small amount of food that was donated over the past week.
Marianne looks around at the room full of volunteers here to give their time. She squeezes Louis’ hand and a cool chill shoots up his arm from her touch. “Everyone needs help sometimes, whether they know it or not, Louis. And it’s just a meal, but it could be you or I who needs it tomorrow.”
Her words stick with him, and no matter where his mind wanders, it comes right back around to them like little pins stuck in the same place on a map. The thought haunts him as he’s washing up veggies and helping to chop them up for sandwiches, while he’s helping to set the long rectangular tables, and even when he’s not doing anything; just looking at the simple things they’ve prepared for the unfortunate people in this city who don’t have the money to properly feed themselves, because Marianne is right. It could be any of them.
Louis remembers being a child and always wishing they had more money, that his mother could afford to buy him and his sisters nice things or live in a big, pretty house. His mother struggled to support all of them when their father walked out. All of the late nights and extra shifts at her multiple jobs that Louis resented as a kid, now look like blessings to him as an adult because a single missed shift or a couple of overdue bills could’ve easily been the beginning of the end. It could’ve been them.
Louis had started off his morning in a bit of a mood because he had to wake up earlier than planned, but he quickly lets go of his disappointment once he realizes that his time here with this charity is so much more valuable and important than an extra hour of sleep. He smiles and puts every bit of effort that he can into supporting Marianne’s cause, and when the doors finally open at two he’s more than ready to serve the people who have been waiting since this morning to get in.
The serving tables are set up in a big ‘L’ shape at the back of the room with a long line of volunteers poised at each dish. Louis takes up the shorter end of the L all by himself with the sweets and desserts, but he doesn’t mind being in a different place than all the other volunteers because he’s quite enjoying talking to the people coming through the line. Men and women of all ages come in for lunch and every one of them has a rough past concealed within the gratitude in their eyes. Louis can tell that all of them have been having a rough time, but just as many of them smile and they thank Louis when he cuts them a slice of pie or places a spoonful of pudding onto their plates.
Most patrons who walk through the doors are quite social, engaging in quick chats with each server they encounter, but there are a couple of them who aren’t as willing to strike up friendly conversations. They slip in through the door as quietly as the fall breeze, silently pointing to what they’d like to eat while keeping their eyes downcast as they pass through the line like ghosts. Louis smiles and greets them anyway, sensing that these people are the ones that need his positive energy the most, hoping to at least let them know that to him, they aren’t invisible. Kind of like the hooded man who just slipped inside and made it halfway around the L without ninety-five percent of the people in the room even noticing.
Louis notices him alright even with his slumped posture and his arms tucked close to his sides; a hiding technique that isn’t very effective for him since he’s taller than almost everyone else in the room and tends to draw the eye. The man nods politely as he travels down the line, collecting food from each of the servers without so much as a whisper. He makes it to the dessert table where Louis’ waiting and holds his plate out near the chocolate cake in a silent request to receive a slice. A little crease forms between the man’s eyebrows when nothing immediately happens.
“Hello, there,” Louis says brightly with much more enthusiasm than this man – or boy, now that Louis can better see him- is probably used to hearing if the way he quickly glances up is any indicator. He meets Louis’ gaze with surprise and then gives Louis a surprise of his own when he responds with a quiet ‘hello’ spoken mostly to the worn shoes on his feet. It hasn’t been very cold lately, but the temperature is definitely starting to drop. For now, this boy’s lightweight hoodie and pair of ripped up jeans are fine, but it’s only a matter of time before the weather turns harsh and icy, and then what? The thought sends a wave of discomfort through his chest.
The boy peeks up at Louis again and the refreshing color of his eyes reminds him of lush forests and Springtime, banishing any feelings of unease.
“Um, would you like some dessert? Cake maybe?” Louis smiles, softer so as not to startle him like before.
The boy doesn’t say anything this time, but he does nod. Louis can work with a nod.
“Okay, great. Do you want chocolate or vanilla? You seem like a guy who enjoys a good slice or two of chocolate cake,” Louis says, smiling at his own attempt at a joke. The boy doesn’t seem to find Louis very amusing, but they’re making eye contact right now which is a lot more than anyone else in the room can say for their efforts. No one else here even tried to get him to talk.
Louis soon realizes that he’s probably not going to get another response out of him when the boy redirects his shy gaze to the floor, so Louis places a fresh slice of chocolate cake onto the empty space on his plate, knowing that’s what he initially wanted anyway.
Louis doesn’t expect him to say anything. He had to work hard just to get him to say ‘hi’ so he has no expectations of a farewell. Louis blinks up in genuine surprise, nearly missing the quiet ‘thank you’ he receives in return. Louis doesn’t get a chance to tell him that he’s welcome before the boy is walking off in the direction of one of the empty dining tables with both hands gripped tightly around the edge of his plate. A new group of patrons come through the line, but Louis discreetly keeps watch of the tall boy out of the corner of his eye. Louis watches as he pulls out his seat just enough to be able to sit at the table. He briefly glances around himself to make sure no one is watching him before picking up his fork and trying the cake first thing.
He eats nearly all of it with a look of nostalgia and ease like the dessert offers much more than the ability to sate his hunger. It’s a look that causes something resembling a grin to pull at the corners of his mouth, and for some reason, Louis can’t bring himself to look away.
The boy only eats a small portion of his meal. He uses the napkins on table to wrap up his sandwich, chips, and pieces of fruit he didn’t eat and carefully places them inside his backpack. He pushes his chair under the table and takes his dirty plate to the collection bin, but before he can make it out the door, he’s stopped by Marianne.
Louis watches on in fascination as the boy turns around and wrap his arms around Marianne’s shoulders in a tight embrace. Marianne hugs him back, saying a few words meant only for his ears. He nods with a small grin at whatever she said and then walks out of the door just as quietly as he entered it half an hour before.
Marianne floats around talking to many of the patrons after their brief encounter. Louis continues working and serving the last few people coming through the line as the afternoon phases out into evening, but he keeps an eye on her, watching for a chance to call her over. He gets his opportunity when she comes over to check on him when it’s time to start cleaning up.
“You did such a great job for this being your first time working with us. Everyone here loved you. They said you were quite alright,” she laughs. “It’s always great when the volunteers chat with our guests and make them feel at home. You were quite the natural,” she praises him.
Louis didn’t think he was doing anything that special. He was just greeting the people coming through the line just like he would any other new acquaintance. Some of them proved more difficult to talk to of course, but Louis grins back at Marianne anyway, glad to have made her happy.
“I actually wanted to ask about something,” Louis begins. “About someone. The tall boy; he had on a beanie and a dark hoodie. You hugged him on his way out…”
Marianne seems to consider the description for a second before recognition lights up her face. “Oh, you mean, Harry,” she grins fondly. “He’s very sweet, that boy. He’s only been coming in for the past few months… What is it that you want to know about him?”
“Um, well. He’s rather quiet isn’t he? I know I’m chattier than the average person, but he seemed almost scared to speak to me; to everybody.” Everybody besides Marianne, that is. It’s not that Louis minds, he just wants to know how she managed such a feat when Louis had to practically pull teeth to get a basic ‘hello.’
“He’s a little wary of new people…of people in general really, and for good reason. The homeless aren’t treated very nicely outside of places like this. People like Harry are used to being yelled at or shunned. They’re avoided and ignored by most, so people like Harry tend to only trust a few people, and for him, I happen to be one of them.”
Everything Marianne just said makes Louis’ heart ache. He can’t imagine being spurned by society and looked down upon especially for something as trivial as his inability to afford new clothes or a place to stay. The people that came through here today were just like any other person walking down the street or riding the tube, they’ve just run into some bad times. Even so, that shouldn’t be a reason for them to be hated.
“He looked pretty young. Younger than everyone else who was here. Is- Is there not something that can be done?” Louis asks, certain that if someone was made aware that he could get some assistance.
“He’s actually been in touch with the community outreach and he’s on a waiting list for emergency housing.” That isn’t a magic fix for the fact that this boy has nowhere to live, but at least it’s a start. Louis doesn’t feel quite as anxious, knowing that he’s going to receive some help.
“How long will he have to wait?”
Marianne’s eyes turn a bit sad at his question. “Your guess is as good as mine, Louis. He’s been on the list for months, but he’s not in priority need. He’s a male over the age of twenty-one with no children and he’s not ill. He isn’t exactly at the top of the list for people needing immediate housing.”
Louis blinks at Marianne like she’s speaking some other warped, twisted up language. “What does any of that matter? What do they expect him to do?” Louis demands. “He needs help and has nowhere to go.”
“Sadly, neither do any of the other thousands of people in London who are homeless. It’s unfortunate, but as you can see, it’s not a perfect system. Some people fall through the cracks.”
“You mean people like Harry.”
“Yeah, love,” Marianne nods sadly. “Lots of people just like him.”
Louis doesn’t mean to let Harry consume his thoughts in the following days, but that’s exactly what happens. He passes homeless people on the way to work just like he has every day for the past six years, but he sees everything through a new lens, like thick cataracts cut away from his eyes to reveal the dim and lonely world that some have no choice but to live in. He sees the narrow-mindedness and the disgust etched into the faces of passersby as they zigzag through the crowds with blinders on, pretending not to hear when someone asks for spare change. Louis didn’t want to believe that people could really be so cruel as to yell or force someone to leave a place simply because they don’t want someone who’s homeless to be near them or their shop, but he sees it and he hears it and it makes him sick wondering how long he would’ve remained blinded to it all had it not been for the one chance encounter at St. Mary’s that suddenly made him give a shit.
Louis backtracks through every experience he’s ever had with a homeless person and finds that he doesn’t have many memories to choose from besides Saturday afternoon. Most of the time he’s so caught up with work and his job and his family to notice an outstretched hand or the silent plea for help from the withdrawn eyes that trail his expensive outfit and his fancy phone. Louis has given change to people on the street before, but only when he feels guilty for not doing so; only when he no longer wants to hear the sound of coins jingling in his back pocket after his fourth or fifth indulgent trip to Starbucks for that week. Louis has never been rude to them and he has helped in the past. He realizes now though that perhaps it wasn’t always for the right reasons.
He walks up the stairs and through the glass double doors of his work building noticing that unlike some of the other buildings he passed, he’s never seen homeless people even remotely near it. This area was a bit rough when he and Zayn bought the place cheap in order to start up their business. He remembers a few people hanging around outside in its early days, but new businesses have sprung up all around them since then and now this street is one of the most progressive and coveted areas to work. Louis can’t figure out what changed and why.
He walks through the lobby and then takes the lift up to the main office space. He waves to his and Zayn’s employees hard at work in their cubicles, but doesn’t stop to chat and check on their progress like he would any other morning. Today, he heads straight for Zayn’s office which is directly across from his own. The glass door is open, so Louis walks right in but he would’ve done so even if it were closed.
Zayn looks up from his phone when he notices Louis standing there in the doorway. “There you are,” he grins, annoying as usual about Louis running a few minutes behind. “We have that team meeting in a bit. You want to order everyone breakfast again to lift their spirts about this deadline? It would be nice to have a doughnut before crushing people’s hopes and dreams about having a life this weekend.”
Louis nods with a big sigh as leans his weight against the threshold. “Yeah, sure,” he agrees. “We’ll order dinner in too since we’ll all be here late.” Louis brain is only half focused on work. He clears his throat before regaining Zayn’s attention. “Hey, um, Z… who’s the first person here each morning?”
“Not you, that’s for sure,” Zayn mutters. He smirks up at Louis to see his response, but he gets nothing but a furrowed brow. “Um, I’m not sure what happens in the morning. The whole point of running our own company is that we get to come in whenever we want. Why do you ask? Are you looking to give prizes to the overachievers who get here the earliest?” he smirks, earning another furrowed brow instead of a laugh.
“No. Nothing like that. I just-” Louis sighs, trying to find a way to explain himself without sounding crazy. “Have you ever seen people outside of our building? Like, I don’t know…homeless people?”
“On this street? No, not in ages. I’m sure security gets rid of anybody loitering about by the time our building even opens,” Zayn says with an air of unconcern. It’s just as Louis feared and it makes his skin crawl hearing it confirmed; to know that someone using the awning on the side of their building as shelter for the night gets woken up and forced out onto the street all before Louis is even awake. He wonders if any of the people from St. Mary’s have ever been ushered away from his steps. God, he wonders if Harry has ever been one of them. He desperately hopes not.
“Lou, what’s going on?” Zayn puts his phone down when he notices something is really bothering him. “Did something happen outside just now? Do we need to call somebody? The police?”
“No,” Louis rushes to say. Calling the cops is the last thing Louis wants to do. “No, Z. Nothing happened. I was just curious as to know why I never see anyone like that around here. It was just an observation.”
“Oh.” Zayn gives him a small nod, seemingly satisfied that Louis is okay and isn’t losing his mind. “This area has gotten pretty posh over the years so everyone tries to keep it that way. Most of the homeless I’ve seen are further out in the rougher parts of town. Alleyways, old buildings and neighborhoods, bridges; stuff like that. I honestly don’t think we have anything to worry about, Lou.” That’s where Zayn is wrong. Louis can’t remember the last time he worried this much about something outside of himself.
“Yeah, Z. You’re right,” he says even though he knows in his heart that he isn’t. “Um, I’m going to go order breakfast for everybody,” he says with a grin. It’s tight and it’s fake, but hopefully Zayn can’t tell. “I’ll see you at the meeting,” Louis says before pushing away from the door to sit in his own office to think and pretend to order bagels.
It’s later than usual when he gets off work. He gets home to his huge flat with the ceiling-to-floor windows that he always wanted whenever he imagined his dream home. He wanted this flat more than anything, and Louis doesn’t even clean the place himself. He pays someone else to do it. He also pays someone else to cook meals in his state of the art kitchen simply because he’s too lazy to do so. Louis glances out at the city tonight wondering how many people are down there staring up at him, wishing for a home ten times smaller than Louis’ and without any of its perks. He worked hard for the things that he has. He doesn’t regret being able to afford them, but he does wish that he had been a bit more grateful for the life that he has when it could’ve been so vastly different. Even when he was young, his mother worked hard to make sure he had a roof over his head and warm food on the table, but he never fully appreciated that either; not until now.
Louis emails Marianne on Friday morning and lets her know that he’ll be coming in again to help out on Saturday. Her reply is quick and enthusiastic, thanking Louis for his dedication as well as the donation money he gave to the program the night before. He thanks her for giving him the opportunity to learn and to help and promises to be there bright and early on Saturday morning.
The entire office stays late on Friday, pushing themselves since their project is nearly two weeks behind schedule and they’re meant to present the finished product to the developer in eight days. Even he and Zayn have been zombified, sitting in front of their screens all day trying to help their team play catch up which is probably why Zayn raises an eyebrow when Louis gets up from the couch at half past eleven.
“Where are you off to? Another coffee run? Get me some too please,” he says as he continues to work.
“I would, Z, but I’m not going out. I’m heading home. I have an early morning,” Louis explains as he shrugs on his jacket. It’s a lot cooler out than it was last week, especially at night.
“An early morning? You going to see your mum or something?” Zayn asks with bright eyes, looking like he he’d drop everything right now to come with him. He loves being around Louis’ family almost as much as they love him being there.
“No, it’s not that. It’s late. I need to take Duke out and I’m going to St. Mary’s tomorrow to volunteer for the Feed the Homeless program. I promised I’d be there early.”
“Again?” Zayn’s face screws up in confusion. “You just went to that last weekend. I thought you only do charity one Saturday a month,” Zayn chuckles. “What, are you going for a record now?”
“No. I just really liked helping out the last time. It was kind of fun,” Louis explains with a shrug. “I want to go back,”
“So that’s what’s been up with you lately. You liked volunteering,” Zayn deduces, his eyes lighting up with understanding about why Louis has been asking weird questions and reciting homelessness statistics like an encyclopedia all week. “Well…cool. Glad you found something that you’re into,” Zayn says, sounding just like his mother yesterday when she said it was nice to see him getting passionate about something besides work. Zayn gives him a grin of encouragement when he wishes him a good night.
“Thanks, Z. I’ll call you tomorrow, alright?”
“Okay. Talk to you later. But, hey Lou,” Zayn says, stopping Louis before he even makes it to the lift. “Let’s not have a repeat of the last time you got really into volunteering.”
Louis frowns at his best friend. “What are you talking about last time? What last time?”
“When you volunteered at the animal shelter for one day and ended up going home with Duke in your arms. I don’t think St. Mary’s is really the place to be picking up strays. Especially stray humans.”
Louis feels his face flushing because Zayn knows as well as everyone else that Louis was never a pet person until he laid eyes on Duke and decided right then and there that they were meant to be. Zayn’s obviously taking the piss right now, but his joke really isn’t that far off the mark.
“Yes, dad. I promise not to bring home any strays. You have my word,” Louis rolls his eyes. “Good night. See you later. Don’t stay here all night,” Louis tells him before walking out.
Just as promised, Louis is up, dressed, caffeinated, and on the way to St. Mary’s all before nine the next day. He arrives about an hour later to Marianne’s delight and helps her with choosing the menu for the day and setting up the ingredients for the other volunteers. She decides on serving spaghetti for the main dish along with various other side items like baked bread and vegetables. She throws out the idea of baking different kinds of cookies for dessert this week since they have the materials to do so, but then Louis thinks about Harry last Saturday and how he seemed to enjoy the chocolate cake more than anything else so he expertly talks Marianne into letting them have both.
The doors open at two to let in the initial wave of people who have been waiting outside. Louis scans the crowd, however, Harry isn’t among them. Louis enjoys helping out and talking with the other patrons who do come in though since most of them recognize him from last week.
More than an hour ticks by as Louis works and there’s no sign of Harry. Louis starts to worry that maybe he won’t show; that he’s forgotten or even worse, that something has happened to him, but right when Louis is about to give up hope, Harry’s tall frame slips through the door as quiet as ever as he grabs a plate and gets in line.
Louis watches him again; all of his subtle interactions as he points and nods, trying his best to not draw extra attention to himself. His efforts prove pointless once he gets to the dessert table where Louis is waiting with a warm smile to welcome him.
“Hello, Harry. How are you today?”
Harry blinks at him a few times with his lips slightly parted in surprise at being greeted with such familiarity. Louis counts it as a win when Harry clears his throat and actually responds with a slightly suspicious, “Um- H-Hi.”
“So, would you like chocolate cake again?” Louis asks, already knowing the answer is yes before Harry nods. Louis slices one large piece and then another and quickly stacks them both in the empty space of Harry’s plate. “There you are. Hope you enjoy. Have a good rest of the day,” he beams. He expects for Harry to quietly walk away like the last time. Harry heads in the direction of the tables, but only gets a couple of feet away before retracing his steps to come right back in front of Louis.
“Sorry,” he apologizes first thing, “But how do you know my name?” Louis’ grin fades when he realizes that Harry may not be comfortable with Louis knowing who he is. If he made a habit of sharing details about himself then he probably would’ve done so on his own.
“I sort of asked Marianne…” Louis winces. “I hope you don’t mind. I should’ve checked with you or asked you myself. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” Harry assures him. “I don’t really have a lot of friends, so I didn’t expect you to know who I am.”
So they’re friends, or at least on the way to being friends. And also, Harry doesn’t hate him for fishing for personal information behind his back. Good to know.
“Well since we’re now on a two slices of cake/first name basis, it might make you feel better to know who I am too. I’m Louis. It’s very nice to meet you,” he grins, sticking out his hand so that they can make a proper introduction. Harry stares at him for a long time with vague recognition almost like he’s trying to remember something long forgotten; or more than likely, someone. Louis wonders who it is that he looks like or reminds him of before Harry reaches out and finally joins their hands.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Harry says, more at ease, but still watching Louis with narrowed eyes. “Are you- Are you sure we haven’t met before?” he asks, looking more and more convinced by the second that they have.
“Uh- Well, I guess technically I met you a week ago on sandwich day,” Louis smirks. He studies every detail of Harry’s face from the sharp cut of his jawline to the soft pink along the apples of his cheeks and the tip of his nose from the cold. He has no recollection of meeting someone with eyes as green and kind as Harry’s before last Saturday, but he really wishes that he had. “I don’t think I knew you before, but who’s to say we weren’t best mates or next door neighbors in a past life or something?” Louis jokes.
Harry doesn’t respond to that. He gives Louis a small quirk of his lips, but there’s an uncertain air about it. He doesn’t get a chance to comment on Louis’ theory either because a new wave of stragglers who just walked in begin to quickly make their way around the L towards them.
“I kind of have to go now,” Harry says, with a glance down at the full plate of food that he has yet to take a single bite of as the new patrons close in on them.
“Yeah, sure, Harry. Of course. You go. Enjoy your lunch. I’ll see you next time,” Louis promises.
Harry nods and continues on his original path to the empty table. Louis watches him go until a woman with dark hair kindly asks for a slice of cake. Louis refocuses his energy on what he’s supposed to be doing, greeting the new people with smiles, but now each time that Louis takes a sneaky peek across the room, he notices that Harry is curiously watching him too.
It’s much later while Louis is helping clean up that Marianne comes over to congratulate him on another successful day. Louis thanks her for giving him the opportunity to help out, but admits that what he’s doing doesn’t really feel like much, considering.
“That’s not true,” Marianne assures him. “I saw you speaking with Harry when he was here. I told you that he doesn’t trust very many people. He’s been hurt in the past and it’s hard to win him over at first, so whatever it is you’re doing, you must be doing something right,” she grins.
The straps of Harry’s backpack pleasantly dig into his shoulders from the added weight of the new items of food he was able to box up and take with him from the church. Harry’s skin itches a bit from the slight pressure, but he won’t dare complain because at least he has something to put in his stomach the next time he’s hungry.
He remembers when he first found out about the free lunch offered through Marianne’s program. He used to be so hungry by the time that Saturday afternoon rolled around that he’d go to St. Mary’s and clean his entire plate. He soon realized that eating all of his food left him with virtually nothing to fall back on in case he ran out of other things to eat during the week. It only took a couple of weeks of him practically starving to death after running out of money and options for him to learn his lesson about that.
Today, he’s got some bread rolls, granola bars, and a few pieces of fruit from the produce store that replaces its merchandise every five days and gives Harry some in exchange for helping move the crates out back. And thanks to Marianne and the people at the church, he also has most of his spaghetti left and some vegetables in a container, and an entire slice of chocolate cake because that boy, Louis, gave him extra even though he’s not supposed to.
Louis is kind to everyone. Harry knows because he watches him when Louis isn’t looking, just trying to figure out what kind of person he is. He seems to like working with the program, but not like the other workers who are mostly students looking to get extra credit or special recognition for the volunteer hours they clock. Louis looks pretty young, but not young enough to be a student, so Harry assumes that he’s there giving his free time simply because he wants to. It would explain why he’s so keen on getting Harry to converse with him. It would also explain why he’s always wearing a smile even after he’s been standing behind the dessert table for hours with no chair.
Harry doesn’t know how, but he’s almost positive that he’s seen Louis before; heard the familiar lilt of his voice; felt the influence of his kind smile. Talking to him is like being inside of a distant memory or dream that he can’t quite remember the details of. There’s no logical explanation for feeling that way, so Harry just ignores it and chalks it up to a creepily weird version of déjà vu.
Harry doesn’t meet a lot of new people. It’s kind of difficult to make friends when you don’t have any money to go out or a fixed place for them to come visit him. Louis had looked so sad when Harry told him that he didn’t have many friends, but it’s true, and it’s not like Harry doesn’t enjoy getting to know new people, because he does. It’s just really hard when most people don’t want anything to do with him and the rest see him as competition for the best places to sleep and score free food. Friendship is a delicate word that he would only use to describe three relationships that he’s formed in the last six months and those few people include Marianne from St. Mary’s, Liam, one of the concierges from a hotel, and Niall from the coffee shop whom Harry is on his way right now to see. His social circle is tight, but maybe it could expand just a little to include one more. Harry will just have to wait and see he guesses.
The thought has barely even filtered through Harry’s mind when a man in a grey suit pushes past him with an offended grimace and his chin held high as he grumbles into his phone about fucking beggars taking over the streets. Harry stumbles a bit from the force of it, but thankfully regains his balance before falling over and crushing everything inside of his bag.
He brushes it off because things like this happen every day. There’s always somebody that turns up their nose or looks down on people like him for no reason besides the fact that he has less than they do. He’s been cursed and yelled at, taking mental and on two occasions, even physical hits, because of a situation that spiraled out of his control and left him without money and a place to live.
It’s not all bad though. Some people don’t hate him just because he’s breathing the same air as them. Some people are kind and good, offering their spare change or even just a smile when he’s having a really bad day. He feels so lowly at times, but people like that; people like Louis almost make him feel like the old Harry again. The Harry who had all the love in the world from his family. The one who was always happy and laughing. The one who never thought something like this could happen; not to him anyway. It’s those kind people that he relies on to get him through each day. Without them, Harry’s not sure where he’d end up. He doesn’t really want to know.
Harry turns the corner on Belvedere to go see one of those very people. He walks until he comes to the coffee shop tucked between a shoe store and a bank with the security guard who never meets his eyes when he pointlessly reminds Harry that his building is for customers only. He doesn’t say anything today as Harry walks by, but he feels the man’s eyes burning into the back of his head. Harry ignores the glaring just like every other day and steps up to the coffee shop door to peer inside.
He smiles when he spots Niall’s blonde head of hair dipped down behind the counter where he’s making someone a giant cappuccino.
Harry came here once to buy a strawberry scone but quickly changed his mind when he read the menu and realized he didn’t have enough money. Niall had been working that day along with two other employees who had their backs turned when Niall accepted his meager change and bagged up the scone anyway along with an extra one. He told Harry to let him know if he needed anything else, so he dug through his bag and handed Niall his water bottle which had been empty since the day before when he had found a random water fountain near the place he’d slept that night. Niall filled it without any questions and has done so ever since that day, but only when business is slow enough that no one notices, and only when his manager isn’t around to catch him entertaining the homeless guy.
Because Niall is amazing, he provided Harry with a schedule of the days and times that he usually works and Harry has since committed the schedule to memory and comes by for a hello or a quick fill up whenever he’s running low on clean water. The place is pretty empty today except for a couple having coffee at one of the tables and one of Niall’s coworkers behind the counter who doesn’t even look up from his phone when Harry walks in.
“Hey, mate! I haven’t seen you all week. Where have you been hiding?”
“I’ve been around,” Harry shrugs, the weight of his bag reminding him that he’s had a pretty good week all around all things considered. “How have you been? What’s new?” Niall rolls his eyes all the way to the back of his head.
“Around here? Not a damn thing. Still boring as ever. People come in, they order, and then thankfully, they leave. You’re about the most exciting thing that’s happened to this place in hours. At least you’re actually nice,” Niall says below his breath with a death glare over at a couple who must’ve been incredibly rude for Niall to hate them so much. He only seethes for a moment though before his easy grin returns. “Anyway. Fuck them. How’s your day going?”
“Pretty good. It’s Saturday, so I went to the church of course. I got some food to take with me. Even a slice of cake,” Harry grins, thinking about how much trouble Louis would probably get in if someone had noticed him giving out extra portions without permission. Harry’s been going to St. Mary’s for months now and he has never seen anyone do something like that. He wonders what made Louis feel so charitable, but mostly how he knew that chocolate cake is his absolute favorite dessert in the whole world. Maybe it was just a lucky guess.
“That’s good. I’m glad things are going well. Want me to fill up your bottle while the shop’s slow?” Harry nods, taking Niall up on his generous offer. Niall fills his bottle with water and then hands it back to him along with two croissants, a scone, and a blueberry muffin from the pastry display. Harry raises his eyebrows at the amount of food that Niall just shoved across the counter at no cost. “They had been sitting out too long. My manager would’ve made me toss them soon anyway,” Niall lies.
Ordinarily, Harry has no problem accepting food, especially if he really needs it, but today he has plenty. “Thank you, Ni, but that’s too much. I can’t,” Harry says. He attempts to give the food back but Niall won’t take it.
“Harry, please. You’re doing me a favor, okay? Just take it,” he says low enough that the couple still sitting there and his co-worker who’s still engrossed in his phone can’t hear.
Eventually, Niall wears him down with his firm stare and Harry feels compelled to do as he says. Harry sighs and accepts Niall’s charity, hoping that his friend doesn’t get himself into trouble one of these days for trying to help him. The last thing Harry needs is to fuck up someone else’s life too.
“Thank you,” Harry whispers to his friend who has been nothing but good to him since the day that they met. Harry honestly doesn’t know what he’d do without him.
The store gets a lot busier during the next few minutes with a new wave of customers coming in. There’s only one other person besides Niall working, so Harry dismisses himself to allow him to do his job without any interruptions. Niall is busy making an order when Harry sneaks some money onto the counter near the register on his way out. It’s not nearly enough to cover the cost of the things Niall gave him, but it makes Harry feel a bit better about Niall essentially stealing for him. Niall looks up from where he’s working when Harry reaches the door and tells him to stay safe. Harry promises to do so with a single nod before walking out onto the pavement.
It’s still relatively early and Harry doesn’t have anything else that he needs to do at the moment so he starts walking in the direction that he came.
During the day, it’s easier to blend in with everyone else walking around or families out and about just enjoying the city. There are lots of nice parks and garden spaces that Harry can often go to without being a bother if he’s quiet and stays out of the way. Most people don’t care that he’s there as long as he keeps to himself, so he spends a lot of his time reading in the grass and breathing in the fresh flowers.
He hasn’t been able to do much of that lately due to the changing weather, but he still likes to sit on the benches or the edge of the fountains to observe other people as they go throughout their day. Daytime is full of simple ways like that to keep himself occupied. There are dozens of public spaces and literally thousands of abandoned books to keep Harry busy, but nighttime is a different story.
The dark is hard for him to get through. He can’t stay in one place for very long after the sun sets. Most places in the city won’t allow him to. People think sleeping outdoors in a big city sounds easy, but Harry’s been asked to leave deserted streets and alleyways beside of fancy buildings more times than he can count. He’s even been told that he could be arrested for loitering when all he’s doing is resting his feet for a few minutes after a long night of walking, so unless it’s a familiar, public space, Harry tries to keep moving.
It’s difficult finding a safe place to go when nobody wants him around. That’s why he loves and appreciates his friend Liam so much. Harry never feels like he’s intruding with him.
Harry met Liam by accident almost three months ago. He had sat down on a curb one night in an attempt to give his back a break from the hours of walking he’d racked up looking for somewhere to stay. A security guard from the large hotel he’d sat down in front of told him to leave and luckily for Harry, Liam was the concierge at the front desk that night and heard the commotion. He left his post to follow Harry down the street once the guard left, calling out desperately for him to wait up. Harry sped up immediately thinking he was about to be yelled at some more, but Liam jogged to catch up to him and placed a light hand on his shoulder. He apologized for the guard’s harshness and offered to let him inside for a bit to rest on a small sofa at the back of the lobby area where guests weren’t allowed after midnight. Maybe it was something about Liam’s kind eyes or the fact that his apology was so genuine that made Harry feel as though he could trust him, but he accepted Liam’s offer without a second thought. Harry sighed as soon as he sat down, his spine cushioned by the fluffy backrest of the sofa. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep a few minutes after that. He didn’t even realize that he’d closed his eyes until Liam gently shook him awake the next morning and regretfully informed him that his shift was over.
Harry hadn’t realized it at the time, but he’d met one of the best people in the entire city that night. Harry has only slept on that hotel sofa a few times; only when he can’t find anywhere else to go and he knows Liam is working. It’s Saturday, so Liam won’t be working the night shift at the hotel tonight. It’s still pretty early, but Harry knows that he’s there for the day shift so he decides to stop by to say a quick hello to his friend.
Liam smiles when he spots him coming through the large glass doors of the lobby. “Haz! How are you, mate?” he asks when he’s close enough. Liam stands and stretches over the top of the desk to give him a quick hug.
“I’m good. Just came in to see how you are,” Harry smiles back at him. “Homework?” Harry asks, taking in the familiar sea of math text books that usually accompany Liam to work. Harry has asked him about a hundred times what it is that he’s studying so hard to become and Liam’s answer seems to change just as often. He wants to be an accountant one day and then a market researcher the next. All Liam really knows for now is that he likes numbers and that he’s good with them, so he could potentially have any job that he wants after he gets his second degree. Harry knows he’ll make a great…something one day.
“I have a project due on Monday. Statistics,” he mumbles. “I hate statistics.”
Harry rolls his eyes at the way Liam drops his pencil with a great sigh.
“Liar. You and your big brain love statistics. You’re probably just tired from working all day.”
“Yeah, you’re right. My brain is quite large,” he grins.
“That would explain your abnormally sized head. Thanks for clearing that up, mate.”
Liam laughs at his joke and then closes his books altogether to talk to him. “So, what have you been up to?”
“Nothing much,” Harry shrugs.
“Have you been alright? Like, at night and stuff?” Liam’s eyes grow concerned with his new line of questioning. It makes Harry glad to know that he has so many people who care about him and his wellbeing.
“Yeah, Li. I’ve been good. I’ve had a pretty good week so far,” he says.
Liam nods but the worry lines etched into his forehead remain there. “I’m sorry I won’t be working tonight. I wish I were.”
Liam has done so much for Harry these past few months. He has absolutely nothing to feel sorry about. “Hey. Don’t worry about me, Li. I’m going to be fine.”
“I know,” Liam sighs, “But it’s supposed to be cold tonight. I just want you to be safe.”
“And I will be,” Harry promises. “I’ll be so safe. The safest,” he grins.
Liam fondly rolls his eyes at him. “Well, sorry I can’t offer you the sofa tonight, and I’d invite you over to mine for a while if I thought you’d actually say yes,” Liam says with a hopeful lilt in his voice. It falls when Harry politely declines as always, causing Liam to sigh dejectedly. Liam has enough to worry about with school and his girlfriend. Harry crashing at his place is the last thing he needs. “Figured as much,” Liam mutters, grumbling something about Harry just being stubborn and how his girlfriend wouldn’t care one bit about him coming to the flat. “Is there something else I can do for you? Something you need?” he asks in a final attempt to help.
Thankfully, it’s one of those rare times when Harry has everything that he needs to be alright for a while. Nothing immediately comes to mind, but his gaze falls across the desk phone lying next to one of Liam’s books and a mixture of guilt and longing tugs at his heart.
“Um, would you mind if I use the phone again? I’ll be quick,” Harry tells him.
Liam frowns, clearly offended by Harry’s promise. “Haz, I’ve told you a million times. You can use this phone whenever you want. Take your time,” Liam says as he hands it to him. “I’m, uh, gonna go to the office for something. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Harry nods and watches as Liam gets up to go pretend to be busy so Harry can have some kind of illusion of privacy.
He waits until Liam is completely gone before picking up the phone to dial a number that’s so familiar that Harry could probably do it in his sleep. It rings a few times before someone picks up.
“Harry!” his big sister shrieks, so excited to have the hotel’s number show up on her phone. “I haven’t heard from you in weeks you tosser,” she accuses him. She must forgive him immediately because her voice turns softer. “Oh, Haz, I miss you. How are you? How is everything? Are you still doing alright?”
“Er- Which question do you want me to answer first, Gems? You kind of threw them all at me at once,” Harry laughs.
“That means that you have to answer them all at once since you haven’t so much as picked up the phone in ages. I want to hear all about- Yeah, that’s fine. Okay. I’m talking to my brother. Okay, love you too. See you when you get back,” Gemma says to someone. Probably her husband. Harry grins, happy that she and David are still doing okay. At least someone in their family can make things work and has their shit figured out. “That was David. He’s running out for bit, but he says hello,” Gemma happily informs him.
“And how is David?” Harry asks.
Gemma scoffs at his question. “This is David we’re talking about. The man also known as the most laid back, happy person in the entire world. He’s great. Quit stalling. Tell me about you,” She demands.
Harry’s smile falters as he clears his throat. He loves talking to his sister more than anything, but the lies that come with it are always hard. “I’m good, Gems. I’ve been doing great.”
“Wow. Eloquent as ever,” she mutters and Harry can practically see her rolling her eyes like she always does. “Give me details, little bro like how’s your job? Are you still liking it even though dickhead works there too?”
Harry clears his throat again. “Yeah. Work is- it’s great. I hardly even see Aiden since the place is so big, so it’s good.” The lie rolls right off of his tongue leaving tiny thorns drenched in shame in it’s wake. Harry hasn’t worked at the communications office in six months; not since the night Aiden broke up with him.
“Well, thank God for that,” she says, sounding truly relieved that Harry doesn’t have to see him. “And I see you’re still at the hotel. Are you still looking for a place of your own or are you thinking about staying there a bit longer?”
“Um…I’m still looking.” Waiting is more like it, but his name is so far down on the list for housing that he isn’t holding his breath. “I’m still just trying to figure stuff out with work and things like that, but I’m gonna decide on a place soon and move.”
His big sister seems satisfied with that answer with the way she hums into the receiver. “And you’re still sure you don’t need anything, Haz? You know that you just have to say the word and I’ll be right there. If you need money or- or even for me to come down there and kick Aiden in the balls…” she laughs, “You know you can always call me, just like I know you’ll always be there for me. Mum would want it that way. She would want us to be able to count on each other.”
Harry closes his eyes, knowing that his sister is right.
He often wonders what his mother would think if she were here to see him now. He knows she’d be upset with him; angry for not turning to Gemma as soon as he needed help, but she’d be even more upset if he ruined Gemma’s life with his truckload of burdens. He’s thought about telling his sister that Adien not only broke up with him, but fired him, and threw him out of the house as well. It took a while for Harry to even realize just how far he’d fallen at first, but the reality of his situation quickly caught up with him when he sold his phone and spent the last bit of cash in his pocket on a sandwich after starving for two days.
“Mum would be so proud of you for not letting that idiot get to you; for being so strong,” Gemma says. She thinks Harry’s life is complicated because of an ex-boyfriend who dumped him. Harry glances down at his faded clothes and smudged hands. Gemma has no idea how much deeper it goes.
Harry can feel hot tears prickling at the back of his throat just when Liam returns from whatever task he made up for himself in the office. Gemma is on a roll, reminiscing on good times spent with their mother before she got sick, but she doesn’t get to say much before Harry interrupts her.
“Gems. I- I’m sorry to cut you off, but I’ve actually got to go.”
Liam frowns and gestures with his hands for Harry to take as long as he needs, but Harry declines his offer.
“Oh. Right now?” she sighs sadly. “Fine. Alright. I know you’re a busy bee,” she teases.
Liam would probably allow Harry to stay on the phone with his sister through his entire shift if he wanted, and Harry would love to do that, but talking to her is painful and it reminds him of too much. He calls Gemma whenever he gets the chance to, but he always hangs up feeling exhausted from the lies and lonelier than he ever thought possible.
“Yeah, I have to go. I’m sorry,” Harry lies again. “But, I’m glad I got to talk to you. I miss you.”
“I miss you too,” Gemma says. “That’s why you should get your arse on a train and come visit, or at least let me come visit you,” she scolds, but there’s no heat to it. She just wants to see her little brother, but Harry can’t allow her to see him like this. He just can’t.
“I promise to let you come visit as soon as I’m in a place of my own. You can come stay a while and bug the hell out me just like when we were kids,” Harry says, smiling when Gemma laughs and swears she will.
“Bye. I love you, Haz. Call me again soon? Don’t wait so long next time.”
“Okay. I won’t. I love you too. Bye,” Harry says just before hanging up.
Liam is hard at work with his textbooks pretending not to hear anything going on around him when he smiles up at Harry.
“Yeah. Thanks for letting me do that, Li. Really.”
“Of course, Harry. Don’t thank me. I’m happy to let you talk to your sister,” Liam assures him. His eyes turn a bit sad after a heavy pause. “Um, I know what you said before, but…if she calls looking for you?”
“Just tell her I’m not here or at work. Same as always.”
Liam looks like he wants to say something. He has tried pushing Harry to tell his sister what’s really going on but he never gets far with the discussion. He seems to have learned his lesson now though, nodding once in silent agreement to do as Harry asked.
Liam hugs him goodbye a few minutes later when Harry decides to leave him alone so he can work and study. He holds Harry tight to his chest like always and tells him to stay safe. Harry promises to do just that before waving him goodbye and setting off on foot down the street with no destination in mind.
Harry walks until his feet and back ache from being upright for so long. He goes to a few of his favorite places to camp out, but he has no luck finding an empty place to get some sleep. Vacated buildings are always an option that he has but never uses. One, because even the most run-down and dilapidated spaces have already been claimed by people who got there first, and second, because those types of places tend to attract anyone in the city who needs a fix, and Harry knows that a place littered with old needles and plastic baggies isn’t somewhere that he needs to frequent.
He ends up at his last resort; one of the bridges downtown that attracts a large crowd each night because of its thick columns and lack of police officers forcing people to leave.
It’s quiet for the most part tonight with only a few people talking with one another and the sounds of the soft waves brushing against the concrete. Harry takes off his backpack for the first time in hours and takes out the blanket he keeps tucked inside. He lays his head on top of his bag like a pillow, careful not to disturb its other contents and pulls his thin blanket up over his shoulders. He’s hungry again, but he doesn’t dare take out any of his food, afraid that someone might see and decide that they need it more. It wouldn’t be the first time that it’s happened.
It’s so much cooler tonight than it has been. Harry’s wearing a coat, a knit hat, and a thick pair of socks on his feet, but the chill still manages to creep in. He bundles himself up as tightly as possible, wondering how he’s going to feel a month from now, two months from now when it’s close to freezing. He’ll have to get more layers that’s for sure. He could probably find a thicker blanket too if he keeps his eyes open.
He lies there in silence long enough for his mind to drift from thoughts of the cold hard concrete beneath him, to thoughts of his sister and their conversation from earlier that still has his throat feeling tight.
Harry wonders if his mother really would be proud of him even if he isn’t living the life that she wanted for him. She had told him and Gemma that she was proud of them right before she died. When Aiden was there by his side and they had both just accepted jobs from his father’s company. That was back when she had reason to be proud of him. Now, Harry’s biggest achievement is getting a free meal and an extra slice of cake. He’s alive though. He has enough food and water on most days, and he’s gotten pretty smart about moving through the city unnoticed. It’s not the grand life that he once imagined for himself, living in one of the huge penthouse flats currently lit up at the top of the glass buildings in the distance, but it’s the best he can do for right now. He takes comfort in that as he drifts off, hoping that wherever his mother is, she knows that he loves her; she knows that he misses her, and most of all that she knows he’s trying.